Júlio Martins da Silva, Untitled, Oil on canvas

fIt was east of Eden, in the territory of Nod, that Cain was exiled after killing his brother Abel. He lost the abundance of paradise and had to create his refuge, building a new place that he could inhabit. It is this biblical passage, here quite simplified, that inspires the exposition East of Eden, which brings together in the galleries Season e millan, in São Paulo, the works of three painters from different generations: the Uruguayan Pedro Figari (1861-1938) and the Brazilians Júlio Martins da Silva (1893-1978) and Paulo Pasta. The idea of ​​exile, in the case of these artists, obviously does not refer to a punishment for any sin committed, nor to some type of forced expulsion from a land, but rather to a feeling that runs through their works and that refers to displacement – ​​whether to a place from which one came, but which no longer exists, or a place where one could go, but which is also not real.

Curated by Antonio Gonçalves Filho, the exhibition, which celebrates the 20 years of Galeria Estação, thus puts into dialogue the works of three names active at different moments in modern and contemporary history, from the first half of the 20th century, in the case of Figari, to the present day, in the case of Pasta. All of them with paintings where nature predominates, with rare human figures, and in which there is no attempt to reproduce realistic landscapes, faithful to the existing ones. “I think what created the exhibition, more than proposing a dialogue between different generations, is an idea of ​​landscape as this point out of place”, explains Pasta. In their “exiles”, from where they painted, “all three have with the landscape a kind of creation of a symbolic place”.

In the case of Pasta, the place left behind is his hometown, Ariranha, in the interior of São Paulo, where he left at 17 years of age. Consecrated over a 40-year career as an abstract painter, owner of a striking chromatic and geometric universe, the artist presents in East of Eden a lesser-known aspect of his work. “I’m not a landscaper. I only paint the landscapes of the place where I was born and grew up, that’s what interests me,” he says. “There is indeed a nostalgia, but mainly there is emptiness and distance. And when you deal with emptiness and distance, it is inevitable to have the suggestion of melancholy, of loneliness.” If, on the one hand, old feelings are revived in these paintings, he explains, “coming home” is being in a place that no longer exists. A place, as Gonçalves adds, that needs to be created, “just like Cain did”.

A similar situation, even though it results in such a distinct pictorial visuality, also provides the basis for the work produced by Figari so many decades earlier. Uruguayan who left for Paris in the 1920s – where he became close to post-impressionists such as Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard –, the artist continued painting landscapes of his homeland, the gaucho, pastoral universe, the pampas, Uruguayan popular festivals and the afro rituals of candombe. As Gonçalves explains, even adapted to Parisian modernity, “he never painted a car, a train, a building of French architecture. What he missed was nature, a nostalgia for this place that he knew in his childhood and adolescence and that no longer existed for him.” In his exposed paintings, in this way, a universe emerges that, embedded in memory, does not exist in reality, but in a “suspended time”, imagined and created.

The case that certainly stands out the most, among the three, is that of Júlio Martins, since his exile does not refer to the memory of a nostalgic past or an abandoned place. It seems feasible to think that Martins was exiled without leaving his own land, Rio de Janeiro, given the unfavorable social conditions, deprivations and deprivations in which he lived. Grandson of African slaves and son of illiterate parents, he was born in Icaraí (Niterói) and started working early to survive. A late and self-taught painter, he did not have an erudite training like Figari and Pasta. Interestingly, he did not portray the harsh universe in which he inhabited. On the contrary, his displacement was towards landscapes of perfect, harmonious, symmetrical places, unreachable in life – but, perhaps, in a fictitious future or in a life after death, as Gonçalves highlights. 

In the words of Pasta, curator of an exhibition about Martins held at the Station itself in 2012, “with extreme delicacy, he builds a world that is more than possible, but perfect. A projection of this world that he did not know”. To which Gonçalves adds: “Imagine, inside a shack, painting these multicolored, symmetrical things, from a paradisiacal reality.” Over the years, the artist achieved relative space in the art world, even participating in the 1978 Venice Biennale. Still, his recognition remained far below what could be expected given the strength of his production.

East of Eden, which is divided between the Estação and Millan galleries, marks the 20th anniversary of the first, founded by Vilma Eid in 2004 and consolidated as one of the most important in the country focused on productions “non-canonical”, whether contemporary or historical. Among them, what is usually called – sometimes in a reductionist way – naïve, popular or vernacular art, generally created by self-taught artists, who remain underrepresented in the market. Still, the gallery's recent focus appears to be broader than that, also including young contemporary artists. The partnership with Millan results from the proximity between the two houses, which have already held another exhibition together in the past. In East of Eden, the galleries also count on the collaboration of Galería Sur, from Punta del Este (Uruguay), which provided Figari's works.

In the two spaces in São Paulo you can see works by the three artists. “They are complementary”, says Gonçalves, explaining that there is no type of thematic division in the exhibition’s assembly. For the curator, in any case, a greater presence of sky and blue can be seen in Millan's landscapes, while in Estação there is a greater predominance of earth and green vegetation. In this set of paintings, together the three artists dream of either a country, like Figari, a rural territory, like Pasta, or a perfect world, like Martins. “And perhaps this is the common denominator between them: rescuing the Edenic placidity associated with eternal sleep”, concludes Gonçalves.

Station Gallery: Rua Ferreira Araújo, 625 – Pinheiros
Millan Gallery:
Fradique Coutinho, 1430 – Pinheiros
On view until June 8, 2024
Visitation: Monday to Friday, from 10am to 19pm; Saturdays, from 11am to 15pm
Free admission

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